DETROIT — Given that the rest of this misadventure of a Twins season is probably going to be about teaching and learning, about mining success out of the failures of youth, perhaps Saturday's pair of losses to the Tigers can be considered a necessary calamity, a valuable debacle.
Not that that muffles any of the pain.
Nick Gordon lost Miguel Cabrera's routine fly ball in the disorienting Comerica Park twilight, allowing it to drop for a winning hit that handed the Twins a 5-4 extra-inning loss and completed a sweep of the doubleheader. In the first game, rookie lefthander Charlie Barnes made only one mistake in a remarkable debut — but that pitch, to the first batter of his career, was enough to hand the Twins a 1-0 loss.
"We are challenging our guys and we are sending them out there in unfamiliar spots and seeing what they can do. And this is going to happen," manager Rocco Baldelli said after his team's feel-good four-game winning streak — all against the Tigers last weekend at Target Field before the All-Star break arrived — was transformed into a long-ago memory. "It's not something you ever want to deal with or you want to see, but when it does happen, you understand why."
Both rookies put themselves in position to be heroes, Barnes by shaking off former Twin Robbie Grossman's 408-foot home run on the fifth pitch of his career and reeling off 4⅔ innings of scoreless pitching from that point on. And Gordon, who entered Game 2 as a pinch runner, had alertly scampered home on a two-out Joe Jimenez wild pitch in the eighth (and extra) inning, a run that looked like it might be the winner.
The Twins couldn't make it hold up, though. With one out, Derek Hill, Detroit's extra-inning bonus baserunner, stole third, and he scored easily when Jonathan Schoop pushed a single through the shift-created hole at second base. Taylor Rogers then struck out Grossman and appeared to force a second extra inning when Cabrera lofted a routine popup into shallow center field.
But Gordon, a lifelong infielder playing center for only the 17th time in his career, froze for a split-second. It was enough.
"We're playing at dusk right now. It's a tough time to be in the field and obviously Nick lost that one in the sky," said Baldelli, noting that Gordon was playing a step or two deeper than he might otherwise, because it was Cabrera at the plate. "Honestly that can happen to anybody. It's not an easy task. It's not that difficult a play if not for the twilight."
Gordan came racing in, shortstop Andrelton Simmons hurried out, but the ball fell before either could reach it. Gordon grabbed the ball, spun and threw wildly to the plate, too late to prevent the hard-running Schoop from scoring the winning run from first.
"A hard way to lose a ballgame, a game that we played pretty hard in," Baldelli said, noting Kenta Maeda's five-inning performance, marred only by a bases-loaded triple by Akil Baddoo. "It's a tough one to swallow."
Same for Game 1, but for a different reason.
Barnes, a fourth-round pick in 2017, became the first Twins rookie starter to give up a home run to the first big-league batter he faced since Bert Blyleven served one up to Lee Maye of the Senators 51 years ago. Not a bad model to emulate. And like Blyleven in that 1970 debut, Barnes didn't allow another run, retiring nine in a row at one point.
Unlike Blyleven, though, Barnes got no help from the lineup, which was limited to two hits, both harmless singles, in the seven-inning game, enabling the Tigers to shut out the Twins for the first time in six years and 89 meetings.
"I made a bad pitch. Good pitches get hitters out, and I didn't make a good one," Barnes said. Overall, though, "I thought I threw the ball well. I did what I'm going to do: I'm going to throw strikes, change speeds and try to keep hitters off balance."
He did it without throwing a fastball, at least according to MLB's Statcast data, which labeled his four-seamers as changeups. In reality, Barnes threw plenty of them — just mostly between 88-90 miles per hour.
"Statcast needs to figure out that not every guy throws 95," Baldelli said. Barnes' real changeup, he said, the 80-mph one, "it's a good pitch. It's a deceptive kind of backing-up-type of pitch that guys just don't get good swings on. … I like what I saw."
All but the endings.